Watering Wise

By Tony Catanzaro

As the weather finally turns to the hot summer time weather a landscape (especially a new one) must be prepared to survive the extreme heat and dry conditions we generally have in July and August here in New Jersey. Many new and even established landscapes develop a host of problems from these conditions and our mismanagement. Water and how we apply and use it will determine our success.

Watering the proper amount at the right times are key. Use a simple rain gage to measure how much water you are putting down. This is a good idea for automatic as well as manual watering systems. Most lawns are watered too often and for too short a time. These frequent light water applications create a shallow “lazy” root system. If watering must be stopped because of draught restrictions or other reasons the lawn will most certainly be drought damaged. By using a rain gage and applying about 1” of water to your lawn 1-2 times per week depending on soil and site conditions you will have a lawn that develops a much deeper root system as the roots are forced to grow down as the soils dry out between water applications. When you use a rain gage place several around the lawn so you can find areas that may be getting less water than others. A manual old fashioned sprinkler is easy to move and adjust but an automatic system will require a professional to make the proper corrections.

Much of the above is true with your landscape plantings. The biggest mistake is to assume that the lawn watering over spraying into planting beds is adequate water for the plantings. Unfortunately many lower cost automatic systems do just this and cause many problems. Trees and shrubs require a much deeper watering and less frequently as well. In many other cases people will over water shrub beds and cause the root rot. This can be a real problem in a heavy clay soil with little or no drainage. I would recommend investing in a soil probe. This tool is forced into the ground and pulls a soil core from the ground. The soil including moisture levels can be checked easily this way. These probes are great for turf and shrub, tree, perennial, and annual beds. The soil probe is an invaluable tool of the landscape professional.

How about if you do not water and the lawn becomes brown. If your lawn is reasonably healthy it will probably just become dormant. In most cases the lawn will green up after a heavy soaking rain or two. If your lawn does go dormant do not continue to mow it and keep all traffic of it as this will beak the brittle grass and cause a lot of damage. This goes if you have a party in your yard as well. Try to give the lawn a good deep watering several days before the event and afterwards as well to lessen the impact of heavy traffic on a dry lawn. Trees, shrubs, and perennials have many differing drought tolerance levels. Depending on how established they are and the soil structure they are in will effect how plants will tolerate heat and drought.

Watering of a lawn should be done in the early morning. Watering in the evening or night may cause fungus problems with moisture sitting on the grass in the hot steamy night. Afternoon watering can be counter productive with the amount of evaporation and even damaging with water droplets acting as little magnifying glasses burning leave tissues.

Watering the lawn and shrubs is not as simple as many think. Incorrect watering may cause thousands of dollars damage to a valuable landscape. The good news is there are many resources to help. Your landscape professional can advise you as well as a licensed irrigation contractor. There is always the Rutgers Cooperative Extension as well as countless websites and books that can help guide you in your watering and general care of your landscape.

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